Alternatives to CFAs

Amidst all the debate about the Lord Chancellor's law reforms and the acres of coverage in both the professional press and the media generally, one point seems to have been missed there is already an alternative to CFAs.

After-the-event insurance is already successfully operating in thousands of cases each year where both sides' costs are covered in the event of losing.

Moreover, there is no need for either solicitor or litigant to incur upfront disbursements, or even worry about the cost of the insurance premium. These are already covered under a bank loan agreement through merchant bank Guinness Mahon, the Law Assist Disbursement Funding Scheme.

Too much attention has focused on conditional fees as a replacement for legal aid. While success fees may be beneficial to the solicitor, the litigant is better off with the backing of after-the-event insurance.

My company, like other insurers, will underwrite a case where there is a reasonable chance of success the same criteria that should be used in any action, whether covered by legal aid or conditional fees.

So solicitors such as Janet White of Howe & Co, who expressed concern (The Lawyer, 10 March) about the impact of disbursements and the insurance premium on the firm's cash flow, should be assured that a scheme already exists to meet such costs as part of an insurance package.

It will do the reputation of the legal profession no good at all if, when legal aid is scaled down or phased out for most types of cases, solicitors take on only the "dead certs" with high success fees under a conditional fee arrangement. That really would be denying the right of access to justice.

I believe solicitors are duty bound to inform litigants of all the options for covering legal costs. And they should certainly point out that insurance is available that covers both sides' costs in the event of losing, and offers to fund start-up disbursements including the insurance premium.

That way is peace of mind for the litigant, financial security for the solicitor, and a merit-based access to justice for all social strata.

Brian Dunk

General manager

Greystoke Legal Services